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  8287660749, BVCC-34119 (2 discs)
  Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 - Harnoncourt
  Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 (with excerpts from the rehearsals)

Wiener Philharmoniker
Nikolaus Harnoncourt (conductor)
Track listing:
  Classical - Orchestral
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Related titles: 7 show all

Reviews: 8 show all

Site review by Polly Nomial June 8, 2008
Performance:   Sonics:  
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Review by akiralx January 17, 2005 (8 of 9 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This is perhaps Harnoncourt's best Bruckner recording to date, and the second on SACD (after the Ninth). The release comes on two discs - the first easily accommodating the symphony (about 73 minutes), and the second having rehearsal extracts (in German, on CD only) which I haven't yet heard.

Bruckner is a composer where performance standards and interpretation more or less go hand in hand - because a badly-played account can wreck even a fine concept. Here, the playing of the VPO is phenomenal, absolutely magnificent in every section, and perfectly balanced.

The interpretation is very fine: urgent without being excitable and with an appropriate Brucknerian spirituality. I found Harnoncourt's Ninth to be compelling but hard-edged, almost aggressive, aided (or hampered, depending on your point of view) by a recording which although vivid was rather dry, lacking something in bloom. It also makes the performance perhaps a touch literal: while Harnoncourt satisfies musically in the Ninth, Barenboim's Teldec recording (my favourite version) has a spiritual element that Harnoncourt conveys only intermittently. In this Fifth there is more nobility and greater warmth, and the climaxes, though powerful, are not flung at the listener as they often were in the Ninth Symphony.

As usual in Bruckner there is little of Harnoncourt's 'period' sensibilities, apart from an occasional 'sighing' in string phrasing where the vibrato is eased off (e.g. after 1'50 in the Adagio - where perhaps he could have let the lower strings sing out a little more). In fact there is nothing controversial or revelatory in this interpretation - as in the Ninth he takes the Trio of the Scherzo more or less 'a tempo' rather than slowing down as used to be the norm. This is just a superb account with countless imaginative touches which raise this live recording (made in June 2004) to a position among the best versions available in modern sound, at least among those I've heard (Sinopoli, Wand II and Barenboim II).

This is a very different sound from the Harnoncourt Ninth, which as I have mentioned had a slight deficit in warmth, more of a gritty power. Here nothing is lacking: sonically this SACD would be among the best I've heard in multi-channel, and as such nigh-on perfect - were it not for a very slight excess of signal to the rear channels, which on occasions sounds a little unrealistic. The upside of this is that the listener is really enveloped in a truly glorious panoply of sound.

The VPO really do play here with extraordinary power, and every facet of this score has been captured superbly. The soundstage is massively wide, as is the dynamic range. The warmth of the strings and wind soloists are vividly caught, but it is the tangible power of the brass that remain in the memory. When the orchestra are in full cry, as in the thrilling closing chorale, the results are truly wonderful from a home listening perspective. This is much more vivid than Ozawa's recent Bruckner Seventh, for example.

I would downgrade the star rating for the recording very slightly owing to the slight rear channels emphasis - but in its own way this is as rewarding listening experience as I've had from an orchestral SACD, matching the superb Chailly Mahler Ninth. Very strongly recommended.

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Review by Mr_Atlas April 22, 2005 (6 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
What makes this recording so valuable is its pairing with the rehearsal sessions. The VPO are a responsive group and do not need to be told twice in order to get the effects demanded by Harnoncourt. (Often greeted with 'wunderbar! Ja, das ist recht!') However, listening to the performance, on at least two occasions they have slipped back into their auto-pilot mode. There is a crucial passage in the first movement where the road is opened up all the way to the finale. As it develops, it should modulate finely and reach a climax whilst remaining relatively calm dynamically. In their first attempt, the orchestra jog along a la Karajan and hit the buffers on a sprawling chord. With the echo emphasising all tutti stop chords, it is a fine old mess. So Harnoncourt deals with it, emphasising that clarity and restraint are required. The results in rehearsal are pointed. So I was amazed to find that their performance did not reflect this amendment.
In movement 2, there is a long concentration on the main theme and its development. Strangely, the celli are configured so that their phrasing becomes almost ostinato in character, with the result that the theme is constantly pulled about and the listener distracted. I've never heard this effect before and don't understand the logic behind it (my German isn't brilliant, but Harmoncourt seems to want to phrase it in a staccato style and quotes Knappertsbusch as his mentor. Funnily, Knappertsbusch, despite his status in late 19th Century repertoire, gives a disappointing Bruckner 5).
The scherzo is possibly the high point of the rehearsal. It has a real swing to it and the contrast in rhythm and dynamics is fascinating. The trio is not ignored either and is paced in both its tempi for maximum effect.
When we come to the performance, not all the maestro's wishes are carried out, but the playing is sublime (generally more accomplished than in rehearsal). tempi are generally slower and more meditative, until we crash into the glorious coda.
I would recommend this performance, particularly as the rehearsal is so fascinating (you do need a faint grasp of German to understand what's happening and a translation would have been a bonus). I would not rate this reading as highly as Haitink's, which gives more gravity to the slow movement or Wand's, which breathes so transparently. Jochum would be my only other challenger, not having heard Sinopoli. But Harnoncourt sits easily in this company and the effect is breathtaking.

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Works: 1  

Anton Bruckner - Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, WAB 105